Showing posts with label 1696. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1696. Show all posts

11 November 2018

Andrea Zani – violinist and composer

Musician who ushered in the new classical era

Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there are many recordings available
Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there
are many recordings available
Andrea Teodora Zani, one of the earliest Italian composers to move away from the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1696 in Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona in Lombardy.

Casalmaggiore, nicknamed ‘the little Venice on the Po’, was a breeding ground for musical talent at this time and Zani was an exact contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri, the most famous member of the Guarneri family of violin makers in Cremona. He was just a bit younger than the violinist composers, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli.

Zani’s father, an amateur violinist, gave him his first violin lessons and he later received instruction from Giacomo Civeri, a local musician, and Carlo Ricci, who was at the time court musician to the Gonzaga family at their palace in Guastalla.

After Zani played in front of Antonio Caldara, who was Capellmeister for the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in nearby Mantua, he was invited to go to Vienna to be a violinist in the service of the Habsburgs.

Antonio Caldara sponsored Zani's work for many years
Antonio Caldara sponsored
Zani's work for many years
A lot of Zani’s work has survived in both published and manuscript form, some of it having been recovered from European libraries. His early works show the influence of Antonio Vivaldi, but his Opus 2, published in 1729, is considered of historical importance because it shows no ambiguity of genre and has cast off Baroque elements in favour of a more classical style.

After his sponsor, Caldara, died in 1736, Zani returned to Casalmaggiore, where he remained for the rest of his life, leaving the town occasionally to make concert appearances.

Zani died at the age of 60 in 1757 after being injured when the carriage in which he was travelling to Mantua accidentally overturned.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta in Castelmaggiore, near Bologna
The church of Santa Maria
Assunta in Castelmaggiore 
Travel tip:

Casalmaggiore, where Andrea Zani was born, is a town in the province of Cremona in Lombardy. It is believed the town was founded by the Romans as a military camp. Around the year 1000 the town had a fortified castle owned by the Este family. Casalmaggiore was also the birthplace of the composer, Ignazio Donati.

Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Travel tip:

Cremona, the nearest city to Andrea Zani’s home town, is well known as a centre of violin production. The Museo Stradivariano in Via Ugolani Dati in Cremona has a collection of musical items housed in the elegant rooms of a former palace. Visitors can see how the contralto viola was constructed in accordance with the classical traditions of Cremona, view instruments commemorating Italian violin makers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and look at more than 700 relics from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari, who produced violins that are nowadays worth millions. Another museum dedicated to the city's luthiers is the Museo del Violino in Piazza Marconi.

More reading:

Why Antonio Stradivari is considered history's finest violin-maker

Nicolò Amati, the greatest of a dynasty of Cremona luthiers

Success and sadness in the life of Antonio Vivaldi

Also on this day:

1869: The birth of Victor Emmanuel III, Italy's wartime monarch

1932: The birth of controversial broadcaster Germano Mosconi

1961: The birth of Montalbano actor Luca Zigaretti


2 April 2018

Francesca Cuzzoni - operatic soprano

Diva who came to blows with rival on stage

Francesca Cuzzoni, depicted in an 18th century engraving by the English artist James Caldwall
Francesca Cuzzoni, depicted in an 18th century engraving
by the English artist James Caldwall
Francesca Cuzzoni, an 18th century star whose fiery temper earned her a reputation as one of opera’s great divas, was born on this day in 1696 in Parma.

Described rather unkindly by one opera historian of the era as “short and squat, with a doughy face” she was nonetheless possessed of a beautiful soprano voice, which became her passport to stardom.

However, she was also notoriously temperamental and jealous of rival singers, as was illustrated by several incidents that took place while she was in the employment of George Frideric Handel, the German composer who spent much of his working life in London.

Already established as one of the finest sopranos in Europe, Cuzzoni was hired by Handel in 1722.

Handel at that time was Master of the Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music, the company set up by a group of English aristocrats to stage Baroque opera, partly for their own entertainment but also as a commercial enterprise.  One of his responsibilities was to engage the soloists for the company’s productions.

He ran into immediate trouble with Cuzzoni, who was due to make her debut in Handel’s own Italian language opera Ottone at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket.  On discovering that her part had been written originally with another singer in mind, one whose services the composer had been unable to secure, she is reputed to have refused to perform, coming into line only when Handel allegedly picked her up by the waist and threatened to throw her out of a window.

Cuzzoni (right) and Faustina Bordoni (left) were fierce rivals notoriously involved in an on-stage fight
Cuzzoni (right) and Faustina Bordoni (left) were fierce
rivals notoriously involved in an on-stage fight
In the event, her interpretation of the role was hailed as a triumph and she soon became a star, her performances winning her an army of fans and enabling her to demand a handsome salary of £2,000 a season, which in today’s money would be the equivalent of about £250,000.

Opera’s popularity soared, despite the company jacking up ticket prices eightfold, and Handel was instructed to recruit more stars to satisfy demand.

Cuzzoni, though, was said to be furious, particularly when she learned that one of the new arrivals was Faustina Bordoni, a Venetian soprano who was much more attractive than she and who had been a rival in Italy.

Fanned by the press, their rivalry extended to the stalls and boxes, where opera-goers raucously supported their favourite and sometimes openly booed the other singer. Matters came to a head when they were cast to appear alongside one another in a performance of Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Astianatte.

Despite the presence in the audience of the Princess of Wales, rival factions took turns to jeer and catcall whenever one or the other began to sing and when the two singers appeared on the stage together a fight broke out in the stalls.

On stage, Cuzzoni is alleged to have turned on Bordoni, sparking an exchange of insults. Soon they were said to have begun pulling at each other’s hair and tearing pieces from their costumes. After they were separated, the performance was abandoned.

George Frederick Handel engaged Cuzzoni to sing with the Royal Academy of Music
George Frideric Handel engaged Cuzzoni
to sing with the Royal Academy of Music
In fact, the remainder of the season was cancelled and Cuzzoni was told to leave, only to be reinstated following the direct intervention of the King. An uneasy truth allowed the next season to go ahead but the company wanted rid of Cuzzoni. Eventually it was decided that Bordoni would be offered more money, at which Cuzzoni resigned in a fit of pique and left first for Vienna and then Italy.

She returned to London in 1734, this time at the invitation of a rival company to Handel’s, although she did not make the same impact, her thunder stolen to an extent by the presence in the company of the superstar castrato, Farinelli.

Nonetheless, Cuzzoni continued to prosper until the 1740s, when the quality of her voice began to decline and her extravagant lifestyle found her increasingly in debt. At one point she was arrested in London over a debt of £30 and released from prison after the Prince of Wales paid her bail.

After a final concert in 1751, which was prefaced by a rather sad appeal for support published in her name by the General Advertiser, she returned to Italy for a final time.  She is said to have then eked out a living of sorts by making buttons. She died in virtual poverty in Bologna in 1778.

The Palazzo di Riserva in Parma, where Cuzzoni is  thought to have made her opera debut in 1714
The Palazzo di Riserva in Parma, where Cuzzoni is
thought to have made her opera debut in 1714
Travel tip:

Cuzzoni, whose father was a professsional violinist,  made her stage debut in Parma in 1714, probably at the Teatro Ducale inside the Palazzo di Riserva, a neoclassical palace in what is now the Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi.  The theatre was replaced in the 19th century by the Nuovo Teatro Ducale, which was built on the site of a former monastery next to the Ducal Palace. Subsequently renamed the Teatro Regio di Parma, the house grew in prominence thanks to the fame of Giuseppe Verdi, who was born in nearby Busseto, and is nowadays regarded as one of Italy’s great opera houses, less well known but on a par with La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.

Parma's pink marble Baptistery is one of  many attractive buildings in the city
Parma's pink marble Baptistery is one of
many attractive buildings in the city
Travel tip:

A university city in the Emilia-Romagna region, with a population of almost 200,000, Parma is famous for Grana Parmigiana (Parmesan) cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham, as well as a wealth of Romanesque architecture, including a cathedral containing acclaimed frescoes by Antonio da Correggio, and a pink marble Baptistery next door. More works by Correggio - and by Canaletto - are displayed at the Galleria Nazionale inside Palazzo della Pilotta.

More reading:

Why Farinelli, the 18th century castrato, was music's first superstar

How Francesco Gemianini, a Tuscan violinist, came to accompany Handel in playing for the English court

Pietro Metastasio, the most celebrated librettist of the 18th century

Also on this day:

1725: The birth of 18th century playboy Giacomo Casanova

1959: The birth of Olympic marathon champion Gelindo Borodin


5 March 2016

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – artist

 Painter’s decorative work can be seen all over Venice

Tiepolo painted his self-portrait in around 1753
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: self-portrait
Painter and print maker Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was born on this day in 1696 in Venice.

Also sometimes known as Gianbattista or Giambattista Tiepolo, his output was prolific and he enjoyed success not only in Italy, but in Germany and Spain as well.

Highly regarded right from the beginning of his career, he has been described by experts as the greatest decorative artist of 18th century Europe. Although much of his work was painted directly on to the walls and ceilings of churches and palaces in his native Venice, many of Tiepolo’s paintings on canvas are now in art galleries all over the world.

Tiepolo was the youngest child of a Venetian shipping merchant who died a year after his birth leaving his mother to struggle to bring up her six children alone.

In 1710 he became a pupil of Gregorio Lazzarini, a successful established painter, but Tiepolo quickly developed a style of his own.

His earliest known works are depictions of the apostles, which form part of the decoration of the interior of the Church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti at Ospedaletto in Venice , painted in 1717.

The Church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti in Venice, where can be  found Tiepolo's earliest work
The Church of Santa Maria dei
Derelitti in Venice, where can be
found Tiepolo's earliest work
Tiepolo was commissioned to produce portraits for the Doge and he started painting frescoes directly on to the walls of churches in 1717.

In 1719 Tiepolo married Maria Cecilia Guardi, the sister of painters Francesco Guardi and Giovanni Antonio Guardi and they had nine children. Two of his sons, Domenico and Lorenzo, eventually painted with him as assistants.

Tiepolo was commissioned to produce paintings for many churches in Venice but also for the interiors of palaces in Milan and for the Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo.

At the request of a German prince, Tiepolo travelled to Wurzburg in 1750 to produce ceiling paintings for his palace.

He returned to Venice where he continued to produce paintings for churches and palaces until in 1761 he was invited to Madrid by King Charles III to create a ceiling fresco for the throne room of the Royal Palace. He fulfilled other commissions in Madrid, although he had to put up with jealousy from the other artists working for the king at the time. Tiepolo died in Madrid in 1770.

The meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra, depicted by Tiepolo,  can be found in Palazzo Labia
The meeting of Anthony and
Cleopatra, depicted by Tiepolo,
can be found in Palazzo Labia
Travel tip:

Palazzo Labia in Fondamenta Labia in Venice has frescoes in the ballroom depicting the life of Cleopatra, painted by Tiepolo between 1745 and 1750. The prestigious palace is on the wide Cannaregio Canal , close to its junction with the Grand Canal , but the entrance to it is off Campo San Geremia. The palace sometimes holds free classical concerts in the magnificently decorated ballroom, or visitors can arrange to see the frescoes by appointment.

Venice hotels from

Travel tip:

The Church of the Gesuati in Fondamenta delle Zattere in Venice has a ceiling frescoed by Tiepolo with scenes from The Life of St Dominic. The impressive work of art, painted between 1737 and 1739, demonstrates the artist’s amazing mastery of light and colour.